All posts by Little Birdie

New generation of terrorists

With the death toll well past 100,000 after nearly three years of bloodshed, its easy to see why so many young men and women from western countries want to offer their services to overthrow Assad’s regime. Whereas before the dominating group was the Free Syrian Army, now it’s mostly overrun with Islamist terror groups which have close ties with Al-Qaeda. While the groups are fighting against pro Assad fighters, their ultimate agenda is to turn Syria into an Islamist Republic ruled on basis of sharia. This obviously does not sit well with western interests, who would like nothing than the complete opposite of that with democratic ideals.

Hundreds of jihadists, some as young as 16 were traveling from all around the world to eventually make their way into Syria and the conflict. This is dangerous as while they are helping the rebel movement, the groups they are fighting for are Islamist terror groups. Influencing youth with ideals at a very young age can set kids down a path which almost always ends in a possibility of death. UK has proposed introducing legislature to strip returning British jihadists of their citizenship, even if it means leaving them stateless.

Once in Syria, the young fighters receive weapons, clothing, and six weeks of military and religious training before being allowed to fight. With the media, Syrian jihad is broadcast through social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter thereby reaching a much broader audience. As a rebel fighter said, “we have no use for people who come here against their will”. While it’s true rebel groups will not turn away fighters, teens are driven to Syria to fight what they believe is a war against an oppressive regime.


By: Rohan Kohli


Doctors without Borders

Doctors with Borders is an NGO that’s familiar to us, and that’s because it reaches all over the world to help. With many NGO’s strongly condemning Syria for using chemical weapons and inflicting terror on the Syrian people, some have decided to help regardless. DWB was not granted permission to operate in Syria by authorities, and there’s a simple reason for that. DWB along with other human rights organizations who have Anglo-American interests in fact lied in regards to massacres in Syria to further fuel what was then a very likely western intervention.

Doctors with Borders however has gained access into Syria, and operates 6 hospitals in rebel controlled areas. While DWB might seem as an independent organization, the organization is being bankrolled by the same corporate interests behind Wall Street and London’s foreign policy. This includes big names like Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Google, Microsoft, Bloomberg, and numerous others. All the corporate companies however wanted a regime change in Syria, so it’s not surprising access was denied and DWB had to sneak in. Since arriving, DWB doctors have set up shelters where they performed surgeries around the clock on innocent victims of the conflict. An estimated 7,000 children have died as result of the war, and some it left with gruesome injuries or missing limbs.

Conditions in Syria however have not been suitable for performing in. DWB doctors have performed surgeries in caves, chicken farms, and in peoples houses. While it is convenient, it isn’t the best care patients could get something that many won’t be able to see until the conflict dies down. With millions displaced from their homes and thousands injured, it becomes a global dilemma to help the Syrian people. While currently the country is overrun with Islamist fighting groups, the Free Syrian Army (western sponsored) is largely ignored as youth join groups that include Al-Qaeda.


By: Rohan Kohli

Open Topic: Journalistic Freedom in Turkey

by Jessica Stone

If I were a Turkish citizen writing this blog post, I could go to jail for it. Why? Simply for criticizing the Turkish government. According to the Global Post:

“Turkey is the number one jailer of journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, and has reached a record high of imprisoned journalists, at 232 people…  Jailing journalists for everything from pro-Kurdish columns to alleged blasphemy, the Turkish government has no plans to end the madness.”

Baransu could face up to 43 years in prison. Source: Today’s Zaman

One recent example of Turkey cracking down on reporters who portray the country’s government in a bad light is the case of Turkish government Mehmet Baransu, who is charged with revealing classified documents and could face up to 43 years in prison, according to Today’s Zaman. The document he’s facing trouble for reporting on is a government document that revealed the country’s National Security Council advised the government in 2004 to start investigating, profiling, and spying on faith-based groups within the country.

Critics have berated this move by the government, which assigned Baransu’s case to the division that handles counterterrorism cases. The Zaman reported that the Turkey Journalists’ Federation’s president said “The purpose [of the government], with this investigation, is to frighten Turkish journalists and force them to turn a blind eye to the country’s facts and report on unimportant issues.”

This isn’t the first time Turkey has drawn criticism for its handling of free speech issues.  Watchdog group Freedom House took issue with Turkey’s response to the 2012 film The Innocence of Muslims, an amateur-made video meant to mock Islam in a vitriolic manner.  Erdogan proposed making it an international crime to blaspheme against Islam, but Freedom House released a statement that year saying  “an international blasphemy law would only add a veneer of religious virtue to an existing pattern of hostility toward free expression” established by Erdogan’s jailing of journalists.

Social Justice for Turkish Women

by Jessica Stone

Turkey is making strides to be a modern country, but its treatment of women is still far behind the times. Largely because of the prevalence of strict religious fundamentalism, women who have been raped are often blamed as much as, if not more than, the perpetrator of their rape. The Guardian columnist Elif Shafak describes the society in Turkey as viewing unmarried non-virginal women negatively, which means rape victims are shamed and said to have lost their honor. For this reason, Shafak writes that neither Turkish domestic abuse victims who want to leave their spouse nor Turkish rape victims have few options for legal recourse:

“For women in Turkey who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, there are few doors to knock on. There are few women’s shelters, and too often society tends to judge the victim, not the perpetrator. Every year women are killed or forced to commit suicide in the name of honour. In a context as unfair as this, we need politicians who are sensitive to women’s problems and dedicated to solving them. However, unlike other areas of life in Turkey, local and national politics remains stubbornly patriarchal.”

The issue of arranged marriages also raises some women’s rights concerns. The Jerusalem Post cited a U.N. statistic showing that 3.6 million girls under 18 are married in Turkey. same article also quoted Nezihe Bilhan, the president of the Turkish Association of University Women, as saying, “Early marriage is a major human rights violation because you take away her right to be educated. When you take her right to be educated then you take her future. She cannot have a future if she is not educated.”

Some of the concerns about women’s rights have to do with worries that Turkish Prime

Erdogan's government has been criticized for its views toward women. Source: The Guardian
Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its views toward women. Source: The Guardian

Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is catering to religious fundamental groups that don’t support many women’s rights.   Middle East news magazine The Tower reported in October that Erdogan recently repealed a ban on religious headscarves in civil service jobs, a rule a former Prime Minister implemented to separate church and state, and the country’s vice president publicly criticized a TV anchor for not dressing modestly enough.

These actions suggest the country’s elected officials believe women should dress, act, and behave under extremely strict religious guidelines. Part of the reason for that could be a lack of women in the Turkish government. E.U. Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule said that only 1 percent of the municipalities in Turkey have a female mayor, according to the United Press International.  Fule also said part of the problem was Turkish society’s attitudes toward gender:

“We are all aware that progress on women’s rights also depends on a change in mentality and perceptions on gender,” Fule said. “Such change cannot take place overnight, neither in Turkey nor anywhere else.”

NGO – Women for Women’s Human Rights

by Jessica Stone

Women for Women’s Human Rights – NEW WAYS was founded in 1993 “to promote women’s human rights and to support the active and broad participation of women as free individuals and equal citizens in the establishment and maintenance of a democratic and peaceful order at national, regional and international levels.”  It was formed to address basic human rights violations that women experience in the workplace and at home.  In Turkey, women are deprived of schooling and face forced marriage, prohibition from work, domestic violence, and honor crimes and killings.

As part of WWHR-New Way’s first field research as an official NGO in 1993, researchers

Turkish women protest restrictions on abortion rights. Source:  The Guardian
Turkish women protest restrictions on abortion rights. Source: The Guardian

discovered that women in Turkey’s most populated cities are “unaware of the rights granted to them by the law.”  Furthermore, according to its website, this research verified that “…women’s lives in Turkey are shaped by patriarchal practices, traditions and customs that govern all social zones, rather than the legal rights obtained on paper. Additionally, the patriarchal practices did not take into consideration the needs and the expectations of women, including sexual and reproductive rights.”  With this knowledge, WWHR – New Way has called for the eradication of gender roles in Turkish society with activism, advocacy, and lobbying.  The NGO’s efforts have been imperative for accomplishing various legal reforms in Turkey, networking in Muslim societies, and promotion of women’s equal human rights at the United Nations level.  The NGO has worked with the Economic & Social Council of the UN, which provides consultation on difficult affairs.

The NGO developed the Human Rights Education Program for Women (HREP) to inform and cultivate Turkish women’s knowledge of their human rights.  Since its implementation in 1995, the nation-wide outreach has reached more than 7,500 women in 42 Turkish provinces.  But the outreach extends much further – participants have become a resource for equality and advocacy in their community so that other women can develop – and hone – necessary skills to improve their confidence when handling personal adversities on a daily basis.  Together, women from all parts of Turkey have become active agents in advocacy efforts for social reform on the national and international level.  Lastly, HREP has initiated and is coordinating “The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)”, the first active solidarity network in Muslim societies for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and human rights.

Source: Women for Women’s Rights “About Us” Page

Gezi Park Protests Raise Human Rights Concern from UN Officials

Turkish protesters fight to preserve the Takism Gezi Park in Istanbul.  Source: Google Images.
Turkish protesters fight to preserve Gezi Park in Istanbul. Source: Google Images.

by Jessica Stone

In June, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Turkish government and Turkish citizens to take immediate action to ease social and political tensions caused by Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.  According to a BBC News article, the protests started out as a small group demonstration, consisting of a few city planners and environmentalists hoping to preserve the aesthetic environment of the park, since the property may be used for urban development.

This BBC article examines how the new development, a shopping center, would affect Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

The current area around Gezi Park.  Source: BBC News.
The current area around Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Source: BBC News.Building plans for a new mall on Gezi Park's property.  Source: BBC News. Proposed building plans for a new mall on Gezi Park’s property. Source: BBC News.

But the protests soon attracted “a diverse array of people disenchanted by the government’s Muslim conservatism, its free-market policies, or both.”  The protests turned into violent riots that raised considerable concern about the Turkish police’s “excessive use of force against peaceful groups of protesters.”   Demonstrators alleged that police fired tear gas canisters,  pepper spray, and rubber bullets at them from close range or into closed spaces, and sexually abused and beat protesters.  Human Rights Watchdog Amnesty International provided a comprehensive report of Gezi Park human rights violations.

Pillay told Turkish officials that such allegations of human rights violations need to be “promptly, effectively, credibly and transparently investigated.”  Pillay said Turkish officials they must seize the opportunity to resolve “some remaining systemic problems in the country’s approach to the rule of law” to punish those who perpetrated the excessive violence, adding, “the government must also provide adequate reparation to victims of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations by security forces.”

One of the most compelling videos from the protests comes from the the VICE blogging network:

For more information on Turkey’s human rights violations, this CNN article provides more in-depth coverage of various accounts and includes Turkish authorities’ response to the allegations.  Also, Hürriyet Daily News provided a detailed timeline of the protests.

Stray Dogs Remain a Concern for Turkish People

by Jessica Stone

Dr. Fischer discussed the week before Thanksgiving break about the sheer number of dogs she saw wandering the streets of Turkey.  I wanted to research why the country is struggling to deter the rampant growth of street dogs that seem to just casually “fit in” and share the city streets with such a large population of people.Stray dogs are part of everyday city life in Istanbul, and many people actually enjoy the free-roaming dogs.

They are part of the city’s culture and tradition, dating back centuries to the Ottoman Empire.

A depiction of stray dogs
A depiction of stray dogs roaming the streets of Istanbul.
Currently, stray dogs are tagged, vaccinated, spaded to protect against rabies and other health issues in the city. Source: Google Images
Currently, stray dogs are tagged, vaccinated, spaded to protect against rabies and other health issues in the city. Source: Google Images

However, large groups of stray dogs sometimes perturb and intimidate people both young and old in Turkey, along with families and small children, as there have been some deaths from feral, rabid dogs.  When giving directions, some people advise to avoid certain routes that have more feral dogs.  Although not many people have encountered an overly aggressive, dogs often keep people up with their nightly barking and scare drivers when they occasionally dart in front of traffic.  However, the potential danger has not thwarted large groups of animal rights protesters not just in Istanbul, but throughout Turkey, from expressing concern of recently proposed legislation on the issue.

In October 2012, the Turkish government’s proposed legislation that has since received much public scrutiny around the world.  According to a Hürriyet Daily News article,  the proposed legislation “…authorizes the removal of all stray animals from the streets, limits the number of pets permitted in homes, and recommends the termination of ‘dangerous’ breeds. Activists fear the regulation will lead to the mass killing of cats and dogs, regardless of whether they are pets or strays.”  Another part of the proposal includes removing dogs from the city and transporting them to areas outside the cities, perhaps in a forested area fenced off, where they will “run free, and they will have a good lifestyle, and will all be looked after.”

But more than 100,000 stray dogs roam the streets of Istanbul.  Can officials really transport so many dogs? Animal rights activists don’t think so.  They say the dogs should be allowed to continue living the way they have for so many years.  Bernd Brunner, a freelance writer in Istanbul, says in a post that the dogs “are used to having people around, and even depend on them, but they don’t live directly with humans.” His post examines dogs’ position in Turkish society….

According to a 2012 CNN article, the “natural habitat parks” described in the proposed legislation would serve as temporary homes for strays when space in animal shelters becomes overcrowded, and until they are adopted, according to the Turkish Forestry and Water Works Ministry.” The article says activists have questioned the government’s credibility on the issue and adamantly oppose the “natural habitat parks,” calling them “animal concentration camps.”  Turkish Forestry Ministry officials have denied various allegations of cruel animal treatment, and insists that dogs will “live a comfortable life” and would receive adequate food and shelter.  Officials insist the law would “ensure that they are protected as best as possible from bad treatment, pain and suffering.”

However, Turkey’s sordid past with stray dogs leaves many animal advocates concerned.  This video from Occupy for Animals examines the disconcerting history of stray dogs in Istanbul.

To summarize the people, in 1910, Turkish sultans decided to transport street dogs to an uninhabited island, where they were left to starve and ultimately resorted to cannibalism of those already deceased.

Interestingly, Turkish people are against euthanasia of dogs and cats for “population control,” whereas in the United States, free-roaming, healthy, unwanted dogs are less-tolerated.  Fortunately, public sentiment about euthanasia of homeless pets has evolved in the last 50 years in the U.S.

According to a CBC interview with Istanbul reporter Dorian Jones, the Turkish government’s strict legislation is most likely based on two things: the Islamic religion’s view toward dogs and the government’s way of pushing toward modernization.  He says the government is treating it as a matter of health provisions and they point to requirements that “all modern cities deal with stray animals.”  Some people point to the fact that the government has Islamic’s roots and dogs for the Islamic faith are considered unclean.  

Despite the long road ahead, thousands of Turkish citizens continue to fight for their beloved street dogs. 


UN influence in Syria

From the beginning of the escalating conflict, the UN had been on the side of the people of Syria as we watched on TV the casualties rise day by day. When it seemed like nobody was going to take an action to stop Syria, the US stepped in and moved 5 destroyers off the coast of Syria while bringing in two aircraft carriers and 3 more destroyers into the red sea. This in turn sparked outrage over the US being involved in yet another conflict, but had its desired affect when Russia stepped in and a last minute deal was made.

Syria agreed to let OPCW and UN inspectors inspect and destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles and equipment, and it was agreed that chemical weapon stockpiles would be destroyed outside the country. Since then all chemical sites have been destroyed, and the only thing left to do is move the chemical weapons out of Syria. While it seems simple in concept, the chemical weapons have to be transported to the port city of Latakia so they can be transported overseas. With the current condition Syria is in, and with the uncertainty of what will happen; the chemical weapons are being stored in a safe location. This may seem like a good idea but with Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda still present in the country, even having the stockpile still in the country becomes an unnecessary risk.

Syrian rebels march during a demonstration in Idlib

The high commissioner for human rights for the UN herself said the scale of abuse in Syria “almost defies disbelief”. With the casualty costing the lives of more than 120,000, and displacing millions of Syrians, its not hard to see where human rights violations are taking place. Since Assad took office, he has failed to substantially improve the state of human rights but instead has become an authoritarian dictator who has little to no concern on the lives of his citizens. Free speech, association, and assembly was strictly controlled in Syria before the conflict, and human rights activists were tossed in jails or tortured.

While Bashar Assad is still in power, Islamist rebel groups including Tawhid Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic Army have joined together together with the rebels to oppose Assad’s regime. The new groups have more support than the western backed Syria Coalition and FSA, it ultimately might not lead to an outcome we want. Steven Hadley illustrates this clearly when he says, “If Assad is allowed to win it sends a message to the world that if you’re willing to kill hundreds of thousands of your people, the international community will let you stay to power. And the opposition winning … increasingly that means Islamists and al-Qaeda.”


By: Rohan Kohli

Bashar Al-Assad implicated in war crimes

With Syria cooperating with UN inspectors to rid nuclear weapons, it was able to eliminate the threat of a possible US intervention and draw the spotlight away from the violence while UN inspectors carried out their tasks. However, a UN inquiry has produced massive evidence of war crimes against humanity, and the trail leads to the head of state Bashar Al-Assad. While it was generally known Assad was calling the shots, this is the first time the UN has accused Assad directly.

With the UN coming directly out and accusing Assad, many wonder if it will affect January’s Geneva 2 peace conference to end the violence once and for all in Syria. Navi Pillay, the UN’s human rights chief herself had said the Syrian conflict had “become an intolerable affront to the human conscience” (Guardian). Faisal Miqdad, the deputy foreign minister, responded by stating, “She has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don’t listen to her” (Guardian). This just goes to show how little Bashar Assad is worried of being charged with war crimes, in a conflict that has already claimed 125,835 lives.


While accusing Bashar Assad of war crimes is something i strongly believe in, it is not very likely that Assad will be brought to trial. The UN commission however not only accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes, but they also said rebels backed by western and Arab countries were guilty as well. In a country where both sides are fighting for control of the country, I don’t feel it makes sense for the UN to accuse both sides of war crimes shifting the blame from Bashar Al-Assad to both sides. While Assad most definitely had his hands in starting the conflict, it is undeniable as Syria’s head of state, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces he had full control of what was happening.

While Pillay has repeatedly asked for the case to be handed to the ICC in The Hague, an ICC referral requires the backing of the five permanent members; US, UK, France, Russia and China. Two of the members Russia and China have blocked any action against the Syrian government, and are not likely to change their ground. With Russia and China out, the US, UK, and France have instead focused on securing the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons. With the Geneva 2 peace conference to take place on January 22, it is unlikely that Assad will co-operate if he is facing war crimes charges (Guardian).

A strong point PIllay brings up is that the ongoing efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons shouldn’t distract from the killings of thousands with other weapons. While chemical weapons caused the largest number of deaths in the war in a single day, conventional weapons accounted for majority of the deaths in the Syrian war. While it is unlikely that Assad will be brought to justice anytime soon, there will be a day where he has to face the crimes he committed against his own citizens. Hopefully that day isn’t too far away…


By: Rohan Kohli

Health Problems Plaguing Sudan, South Sudan

On the heels of more clashes between government forces and insurgents, the World Health Organization has confirmed an outbreak of yellow fever in regions of Sudan and South Sudan.

The WHO confirms 14 people have died so far with 44 reported cases. The cases were reported in 12 areas: Lagawa, Kailak, Muglad and Abyei localities in West Kordofan and Elreef Alshargi, Abu Gibaiha, Ghadir, Habila, Kadugli, Altadamon, Talodi and Aliri in South Kordofan. The initial cases were reported in workers traveling from Sudanese plantations in October.

Yellow fever is a disease transmitted by infected mosquitos. The World Health Organization estimates yellow fever infects between 840,000 and 1.7 million people in Africa every year, resulting in anywhere from 29,000 to 60,000 deaths.


Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control 

There is no treatment or cure for yellow fever except for “supportive care”. People can get a preventative vaccine to reduce risk of becoming infected.  Yellow fever affects the body in two stages. The first phase causes fever, muscle pains, shivers and vomiting. Most patients recover after this stage.

The second, more serious phase, leads to jaundice and abdominal pain. Patients may start bleeding from the mouth, nose, or eyes while losing kidney function. About 50% of these patients die in less than two weeks.

The Federal Ministry of Health is planning to organize a “reactive mass vaccination campaign” against yellow fever in the areas where the disease has broken out.
Posted by Courtney Doll